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Tuesday, 11 March 2014
St Patrick's Day through the years
It is fast approaching that time of year again for the global onslaught of revelers putting an oversized leprechaun hat on their head, drinking far more alcohol than they can handle and shouting “Top of the morning to ye” at each other in their best ‘Oirish’ accent.
Despite the stereotypes, most of the brashness now associated with St Patrick’s Day actually originated in the US – leprechauns, the bright green clothes, the dyed beer. Even the dinner of corned beef and cabbage is an American invention.
In 2006, the Irish government decided to tap into this enthusiasm for celebrating our national saint by creating St Patrick’s Festival; a week of events, gigs, tours, and street performances, crowned off with the parade through Dublin city centre.
Mass, bacon and rain
However, just 20 years ago, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day used to be a much more sombre affair in Ireland. The focus was on the religious aspect of the day, as families dressed up to go to morning mass, with a sprig of shamrock pinned to their coats. Blessing the shamrock was also part of the Dublin parade.
St Patrick's Day Industrial parade in O'Connell St, Dublin, 1955
After mass, people went home to get the dinner of bacon or roast chicken and potatoes ready. The men might slope off to the pub for a leisurely pint of Guinness with the other males of the neighbourhood. Since the ‘80s, TVs in the living-rooms of rural Ireland were always tuned in to the Dublin parade. From this vantage point, the tanned and sequinned dancing groups from the US seemed like creatures of a superior species, their enthusiasm and permasmiles almost unnerving.
Parades were held in all the large towns, but they were a community effort and focused on regional industries. Tractors were a common sight, pulling trailors carrying floats sponsored by local businesses and clubs. The girls from the Irish dancing clubs were always out in force, but without the layers of fake tan and makeup they come with these days. People cheered to see their neighbours and relations in the parade. They did not need glamorous costumes, pounding music or fancy fireworks to make standing in the rain worthwhile.
McKintosh float in the 1955 parade
One tradition that has continued is the holding of the Gaelic Athletic Association club final in both hurling and football on St Patrick's Day. Croke Park has become the regular venue for this event, and it is a big draw for many people in Dublin for the festivities who wouldn't normally attend a GAA match. The Irish Photo Archive has a collection of images of St Patrick’s Day from the 1950s through to the 1980s. They portray an Ireland that was pushed aside by the Celtic Tiger, but which has been remembered in the past few years with a lot more fondness. Which version of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are best will always be a subjective opinion, but why not use our galleries to look back on the day through the decades.